CV Writing Basics

So you'd like to move on and change your job?

Or, maybe you're fresh out of college and new to the job market entirely?

Think you can just get by borrowing a friend's CV and doing a sneaky cut-and-paste job with your details ?

"Surely not!"

CV writing is an art. CV writing is a science. CV writing isn't as easy as you think.

Then again - it's not rocket science.

There are, however, certain rules, traditions and tested techniques to learn and employ when putting together a CV. Writing a successful CV takes a great deal of time (unless you get a cv writing service to do it for you.) So, if you're going to spend all that time researching and writing, you should prepare yourself properly and get to grips with a few ground rules.

CV Writing Basics

There are many different styles of CV - the chronological CV, the functional CV, the combined format CV, the skills-based CV, the structured interview CV, the skills-based CV....

(I could go on. But for your sake I won't.)

All of these differing CV formats, very different though some of them appear, share certain standard features which you should always include. Not only should these elements always be included, they should always be included in a particular way.

CV Structure (Part 1) - Name, Address, Contact Details

Your name should always appear at the very head of your CV and always in a text size larger than any other font size employed elsewhere on your CV. From a stylistic point of view, aligning your name to the left or centre works best. This is not because right-aligning your name on the page looks wrong in any absolute way, just that recruiters are usually conservative in terms of what they expect to encounter on a CV.

The name you give on your CV should be the one you use normally, as opposed to your full formal name (unless your full formal corresponds to what you normally use). For example, if your full formal name is Alexander James Charles Smith, but you refer to yourself normally as Alex Smith, then you should use the latter name. Don't refer to yourself as Mr, Mrs, Ms or similar. The only instance when this would be acceptable is when your name makes it ambiguous what your gender is. Even then you should place brackets around the Mr or Ms or Mrs bit. Better still just add a one line entry in your personal information section - i.e.
Gender: Female

The only other titles you may want to include are professional titles such as Dr. or Professor. This kind of title may be placed before the name.

One last thing on titles - only consider using them where you are sure that doing so will be to your advantage. If you have a PhD but you're trying to line up a job in a call centre (for whatever reason) you'd be better advised not to head up you CV with the Dr. abbrevation before your name.


Whilst it is not set in stone anywhere (I don't believe there are a Ten Commandments of CV Writing - but maybe there should be) including your address immediately beneath your name at the head of your CV is a good idea. Like this:

It's important that all elements of your CV are immediately identifiable and that includes your contact details. The norm is to present these on the first page and consequently recruiters will naturally look there to find them. It may appear a trivial matter, but a stressed out recruiter with a position to fill and a sack load of CVs to analyse, may well become riled by something as banal as not being able to immediately find your email address.

These days a recruiter may not ever make use of your full postal address, contacting you only by email or by 'phone. Nonetheless, don't make assumptions - not every employer is the same and if they do want to post candidates invitations to interview or further information, they'll be baffled by the absence of an address. So much so that they will probably discard your CV. You must therefore include a full postal address.

After all - they'll need somewhere to send the contract once you land the job, right?

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Types of CV

Most job seekers only have experience of writing one kind of CV – the traditional chronological CV where one’s employment and education history are presented in reverse, chronological order.

The chronological CV works well in many instances, especially where you have a stable career progression, developed in a series of jobs over a number of years. However, for a variety of reasons, you may want to consider adopting an alternative approach to constructing your CV.

For example, the following categories of jobseekers are usually not best served by the traditional chronological CV:

School Leavers.
New Graduates.
People wanting to make a career change.

School leavers and graduates don’t have a great wealth of work experience to use as evidence of their skills and qualities. People wanting to change career who employ the traditional CV format may struggle to win over employers who are immediately presented with a list of jobs that seem irrelevant.

For these kinds of job seekers, a functional CV approach may be more rewarding. The functional CV focuses attention immediately on transferable skills or 'potential'. Whereas a chronological CV begins with a reverse chronological presentation of jobs, the functional CV begins with and devotes most space to a generalised presentation of skills and qualities. If you write a CV in this way you are able to select experiences from your employment and educational experiences and match these up with the qualities an employer is looking for. In a chronological CV the reader has to figure out himself what your transferable skillset is. In a functional CV you leave him in no doubt from the very outset. The employment section of a functional CV is reduced to a simple list of dates worked, company names and job titles. All relevant experiences from these jobs will have been discussed in the initial skills summary.

Elements of both CV types – chronological and functional – can be selected to construct a truly persuasive and impressive record of your achievements in a combined CV. A combined CV will incorporate both the initial skills summary of a functional CV and the traditional, lengthier presentation of your employment history.

Writing a CV - Sell Yourself!

Your CV is effectively your opportunity to sell yourself to an employer. The same rules apply to selling yourself in your CV as apply elsewhere in life.

Question: What makes us buy one roughly similar product over another ?

Answer: How effectively that product has been sold to us.

Question: Do the best candidates always get called to interview or get offered jobs?

Answer: No - those most effective at selling themselves succeed.

So what constitutes effective selling in your CV?

The first step in selling yourself involves eliminating all negative words or content from your CV. Whilst the truth may be that you left your last job because you became frustrated with your pay or the office politics or your boss’s attitude, your new employer does not want to know about this. Learn to focus only on the positive aspects of your experience and the achievements you accomplished. Never make criticisms of your former employers. Once you are well established in a job you can choose to reveal the bigger picture of your previous jobs should you have colleagues you can trust. Whilst you are writing your CV, however, you must come across as universally positive about your past work.

Be careful not to let your positivity turn into boasting. If you are too boastful or exaggerated, people will find your CV irritating and unconvincing. On the other hand if you are too self-effacing and timid, you will make no impact or provoke a negative, critical response. You must learn to strike a balance between under-selling and over-selling yourself.

CV Writing - Optional Elements Part 3

Should I include my age on my CV?

Even though legislation to protect against age discrimination in the workplace is common in many countries these days, it would be foolish to assume that an employer never considers a candidate’s age when recruiting. Of course, this can work in two ways. An older candidate may be discriminated against when the typical age profile of a job he is applying for is younger than he is. Likewise, a young candidate with all the relevant experience may not be considered for senior roles simply on the basis of his youth.

It is fair to say, however, that the majority of age discrimination in employment matters affects older candidates. Would it be sensible, therefore, to omit a ‘date of birth’ or ‘age’ entry? The answer - usually not. The absence of a date-of-birth or age reference is much more visible to a recruiter than, say, the omission of one’s marital status. Some people argue that it should be possible for recruiters to gauge the age of a candidate on the basis of his work history and indeed that omitting to mention one’s age forces the recruiter to only focus on the quality of the candidate’s work experience. Whilst the latter point is very relevant, nonetheless, a recruiter will expect to see your age mentioned at some point within your CV. If you suspect your applications are being rejected summarily because of your age there are now opportunities to have alleged discrimination investigated.

CV Writing - Optional Elements Part 2

Personal Details

Which personal details, beyond your full name, should be included in your CV? Traditionally, both your date of birth and marital status were included in a CV. Today, however, whilst a reference to your date of birth is still expected, it is not – in the UK, Europe and North America - considered necessary to reveal your marital status.

Before you decide whether to reveal your marital status you should ask yourself how the recruiter will consider this information, if at all. If you believe the recruiter will see no relevance in it, do not bother to include it. If you are sure the nature of the job you are applying for is more suitable for someone single or married, include that information if it works in your favour.

For example, if or you suspect a recruiter is looking for someone he can expect to devote at least several years to a job, revealing that you are married with two kids at school may positively influence your application. For the recruiter you are statistically a better hire than a young singleton. On the other hand, if you know a job will involve a lot of travel and time away, a recruiter may be interested to hear that you are single and have no particular ties. In this case a singleton is statistically a better hire.

Gauging how an employer will consider your marital information is a tricky business. For that reason it is usually preferable to omit this information entirely. The earlier sections of your CV – profile, skills, employment, education – should be so well presented that the recruiter makes his decision to progress your application without having to consider anything else.